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French adventurer, 75, dies during solo Atlantic row

Jean-Jacques Savin’s overturned boat was found off the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores



Jean-Jacques Savin. — AFP
Jean-Jacques Savin. — AFP

By AFP

Published: Sun 23 Jan 2022, 12:45 AM

A 75-year-old Frenchman attempting to row across the Atlantic “to laugh at old age” was found dead in his cabin at sea on Saturday, his support team said.

Portugal’s coastguard found Jean-Jacques Savin’s overturned boat off the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores on Friday.

They were able to send a diver down on Saturday to search it, his team added.

The former paratrooper’s body “was found lifeless inside the cabin”, they said.

The avid triathlete set off from mainland Portugal’s southern tip on January 1, but there had been no contact with him since overnight Thursday to Friday when he activated two distress beacons.

It was just his latest adventure after crossing the Atlantic alone in a custom-built barrel in 2019, a 127-day trip followed by thousands on Facebook.

Savin was hoping again to reach the Caribbean, this time in a rowing boat eight metres long and 1.70 metres wide, with a rowing station at its centre.

His team earlier on Saturday said they were “very worried”.

“We haven’t heard from him since 00:34 yesterday (Friday) morning,” they said, adding that he had activated “two distress beacons, telling us he was ‘in great difficulty’.”

His daughter in a Facebook post said a search operation “was immediately set in motion in coordination with the French, Portuguese and US sea rescue services”.

He was last heard from north of Madeira, Portuguese islands off the northwest coast of Africa, on his way to Ponta Delgada in the Azores.

Shortly after leaving on January 1, unfavourable wind conditions had forced the adventurer to extend his trip by 900 kilometres.

On Wednesday, he had reported “strong swell and... wind” on Facebook, adding that he had been forced to switch from using an electric water desalinator to a backup one operated by hand.

“It’s costing me physical energy,” he wrote.

But “be assured I am not in danger”.

Savin, who said rowing across the Atlantic was a way to “laugh at old age”, celebrated his 75th birthday on Friday last week on board his two-cabin boat.

He had set off with 300 kilos of equipment, including freeze-dried food, a spear gun to fish and a heater, as well as the two desalinators.

To celebrate his birthday, he had also brought along his mandolin, foie gras and champagne.

“I’m off on holiday to the open sea,” he had said before leaving.

“I will row eight hours a day and when the wind blows too hard, I’ll close myself in,” he said.

He was looking forward to an extra safety measure that he did not have during his last barrel crossing: a tracker to make him visible to the radars of passing cargo ships.

After returning from his last trip, he had written a book to recount his journey.

The following year, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, he gave advice to fellow Frenchmen on how to avoid cabin fever during confinement.

“Everyone needs to embrace their passion... Start drawing, learn to play the harmonica, if it doesn’t bother the neighbours,” he said.

He said he appreciated the solitude of his 2019 trip, adrift in a barrel on the ocean.

“I wrote my journal, I read a lot, I exercised,” he said.

Through a porthole in the floor, he was able to admire passing schools of fish. And sometimes, he spotted dolphins.

Xavier Daney, the mayor of Ares on the west coast of France where he lived, paid tribute to “an extraordinary man”.

He offered his condolences to Savin’s wife, his daughter and to the support team that was helping him on the crossing.


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